Athletes who complete 10 Melbourne Marathons instantly become members of a celebrated group known as the Spartans.
There is also a group of Spartan Legends who have completed all 35 previous races.
The Spartan Legends
There are now just 10 runners, known as Legends, who have completed all 36 Melbourne Marathon.
MM PB: 3:02.02 – 1982
1978 time: 3:07.17
2013 time: 6:46.48
Pete’s time of 6:46.48 in 2013 placed him only slightly ahead of the pack-up vehicles and he has been struggling with back and neck issues in recent times.
“I’m the oldest and the slowest, which is not a good sign. But if I get a transplant I’ll be right,’’ he said.
In the early years Pete was usually around the 3:30 mark, with his best 3:02 in the Bill Rodgers’ tailwind year of 1982.
“I was pretty fit back then, not a broken-down old hack like I am now,’’ he said. ‘‘I used to train with Pam Turney’s group and I did the old Vic Marathon when it was at Point Cook. I can still remember the first Melbourne race. It started in the streets of Frankston and went straight up the Nepean Highway to the Town Hall. After about the first mile we turned on to Nepean Highway and one wit called out, ‘You beauty, we are in the home straight now’.’’
His most enjoyable race was five years ago when he paced veteran Spartan Shirley Young to her 30th successive finish.
“Shirley already had the onset of Alzheimer’s and we’d only gone about 3km and she was asking me at what stage we were at,’’ Pete said. “Getting her to the line in 6hr22 min was probably my best effort.’’
Pete still works as a stop/start man for Newco Traffic Control, making it hard to find time to train.
But given he has not missed an Athletics Victoria road race for his club Oakleigh in the past 40 years, it would be a brave person who bets against him lining up on October 12.
MM PB: 2:47.41 – 1982
1978 time: 3:14.03
2013 time: 5:47.26
Running marathons is not the only passion that kept Neville motivated in the past three decades. Sure he’s one of the 10 Legends, but he’s also proud of another streak.
“At the end of 2010, I had played or umpired 1251 games of footy,’’ Neville said.
Neville took up umpiring after playing 161 games, including four premierships for Box Hill Pioneers FC. It was his involvement with the men in white that led him to run the 1978 race.
“At our end-of-season umpires presentation night, one of the umps came up and said, ‘Does anyone want to make an umpires team for the marathon?’ In the first year the race was held in November, so I had about six weeks to train,’’ he said.
Fortunately Neville was already a seasoned summer athlete, having joined Box Hill Athletic Club as a junior in 1960-61, gradually progressing from sprints to middle distance.
“I was so excited when I completed my first 20-mile training run in a time of 2hrs 25min before the marathon and I ended up running 3:14,’’ he said. ‘‘The next year it was a really hot day and I ran conservatively, and when I crossed the line my watch indicated 2:59.48. A few weeks later my official result was posted out and I was 96th, but my time was downgraded to 3hrs 1sec. That kept me motivated for the next one.’’
Neville eventually got his marathon PB down to 2:44.40 but they haven’t all been as easy.
“Back in 1992 I had an achilles operation and the doctor said, ‘I don’t think you’ll be running this year.’ I ended up putting three wedges in the heel of my left shoe and I walked and jogged my way home in 4:33. I’m also on medication for polymyalgia rheumatica, because my muscles used to tighten up and I had could hardly move in the morning.’’
The past few Melbournes have been tough for Neville.
In 2010 he ran the race with massive pain in his hip.
“I had to grit my teeth and force the pain out of the back of my mind,’’ he said. “I remember seeing Peter Ryan sitting on the grass in Alexander Avenue and I asked him if he would join me as I shuffled past.’’
A trip to a specialist revealed his left hip cartilage had worn out and he had a full hip replacement in May, 2011.
In what became a race against time, Neville managed to increase his workload enough to complete the 2011 race in 6:12.10 – his slowest run, but probably his most courageous.
Neville works as an administrator for the Victorian Teachers Credit Union and in 2012 celebrated his 50th anniversary of competing for Box Hill. In 2009 he won gold in the 800m at the Victorian Masters titles at Glenhuntly.
MM PB: 3:19.25 – 1984
1978 time: 4:42.27
2013 time: 4:47.17
Frank admits he had no idea what a runner’s “wall’’ was when he started training for the marathon with former Waverley athlete Bob Schicket back in 1978.
“At that stage I was living in East Burwood and doing the odd run here and there to try and keep fit and saw the advertising for the Big M Marathon and thought I’d give it a go,’’ he said. “I hit the wall around Middle Brighton (30km), so I found out all about it.’’
Undeterred by his first effort in nearly five hours, Frank became a regular on the running scene, often taking part in ultra marathons including the Melbourne to Colac (100-mile race), and beating the legendary Cliff Young on a couple of occasions.
His best time for 42.2km was 3:19 as a 40-year-old in 1984, but the only time he looked like losing his sequence of Melbourne Marathons was in 1987 when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer and had to have surgery 12 weeks before the race.
“My wife made me sign the entry form before I went under the knife. I only just made it that year.’’
Frank, who worked for McEwans hardware as a store manager, now lives in Cowes and has a lawn mowing business.
As to how many more Melbournes he will do, he said: “If I listen to my doctor he tells me to stop at 70. We’ll see what happens after that but so long as I’m not a nuisance and holding up traffic I think I’ll keep going.’’
MM PB: 2:58.51 – 1986
1978 time: 4:14.10
2013 time: 5:01.31
David was 31 and an occasional fun runner when he heard about the inaugural Melbourne Marathon.
"I was in a pub with a few mates and one had done the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and another had done some serious whitewater rafting, so I was feeling like I needed to do something to match them,'' he said.
"My first marathon was 4hrs 15 minutes but I eventually broke three hours (his best was 2:58 in 1986).''
Foskey, who works as a computer systems developer with Beacon Business Systems, said that the group of 10 remaining Legends helped spur each other on and that the annual marathon was a great way to ensure health was maintained.
"I know at my age now that keeping fit is good for me and I've been lucky enough to only have minor injuries, so I've been able to keep the streak going,'' he said.
As to which Legend is likely to keep going longest, Foskey said there were two main candidates.
"Wayne Thompson is young and still running strongly, while Bruce Hargreaves is mad enough to be running at 100, so one of those two I'd guess," he said.
MM PB: 2:54.20 – 1983
1978 time: 4:12.58
2013 time: 6:52.34
There have been plenty of VFL/AFL footballers who have run the Melbourne Marathon with inaugural race chairman and Melbourne premiership player Brian Dixon among the most decorated.
Peter is not as well known as a footballer having played one VFL game for Hawthorn back in 1967, but he is a life member of the Hawks after serving many years as a recruiter and he is well known in running circles, having been a Spartan president for 12 years.
“I was still playing footy in the Essendon District (League) and was getting to the end of my career when I first heard about the marathon,’’ he said. “I got through the first one OK, but I have more vivid memories of the second year. I’d done a fair bit of training, but it was later in the year and it was a really hot day and I thought I wouldn’t finish. I had a can of Coke, which is not normally the best thing, but it sparked me up.’’
There have been a few times when Peter’s streak looked like ending.
In 2007 he tore cartilage in a knee a couple of weeks before the race.
“I just struggled home that day by running and walking and then went and had arthroscopic surgery soon after,’’ he said.
“The knee’s OK now, so I’ll be trying to scrounge out another six marathons. That would take me to 40 Melbourne’s in a row, which would be fantastic.’’
A mystery illness that doctors couldn’t diagnose hospitalized him for three weeks just before the 2010 race, but he battled through in 5:32. And last year he had open heart surgery in May and courageously walked and jogged his way to the finish line – a lot of it with Pete Battrick.
Ryan’s favourite memory is back in the early ’80s when he ran alongside Cliff Young for much of the race. “That was before he’d won the Sydney to Melbourne, so I recall being shocked by this old bloke shuffling along next to me in long trousers with holes cut out in them,’’ he said. “It was when I used to run sub-three hours so it was quite a surprise that this guy was keeping up with me.’’
Ryan has retired from teaching but keeps himself busy organising football for people with intellectual disabilities, for which he was awarded an Order of Australia medal.
MM PB: 2:54.11 – 1982
1978 time: 3:36.04
2013 time: 5:51.06
Tennis great John Newcombe deserves some of the credit for Roger being one of the 10 Legends.
Roger was in his mid-20s when he attended the Australian Open at Kooyong in 1975.
“Newk was playing Jimmy Connors in the final and I was so inspired that I went out and ran around the parkland nearby for half an hour,’’ he said.
“It was my New Year’s resolution and I found I enjoyed running and I made it a part of my daily routine to run for a minimum of half an hour. Even now I try and get on sequences of running 900 days in a row.’’
Roger became a devotee of doing a lap of Albert Park (he calculates that he has run more than 18,000 laps of the popular circuit) and was encouraged to run the Melbourne Marathon in 1978, finishing in 3:36.
Soon after he joined South Melbourne Harriers and came under the influence of prolific marathoners Jim Crawford and Peter Logan.
“I never really excelled at any sport, but I got to know the guys at South Melbourne and they encouraged me. I set myself a target of doing six marathons a year and I actually reached my 100th marathon in 1996 and since then I’ve just done the Melbourne race,’’ he said.
Roger, who works as a fashion accessory importer, has a best time of 2:54 in 1982, but admitted his hunger for racing was long gone.
“It’s got to the stage where it would take more courage not to run the marathon than actually doing it. None of us want to do it, the hunger has gone out of it, but we’ve gone so far you can’t pull out. It’s a bit of madness really,’’ he said.
“But all of us are really proud of the record and it gives us an added goal in life.''
MM PB: 3:02.49 – 1987
1978 time: 3:41.40
2013 time: 3:54.57
You would think that as you get older your desire to run marathons would drop. For John it had the reverse effect. The Melbourne Marathon was the only one John had done until he entered the Sydney Olympic Trial Marathon in 2000. Then at the age of 60, John became addicted and he ran eight marathons in 2010.
“I joined the Yan Yean Road Runners (he lives in Eltham) not long ago and that’s really helped keep my fitness up,’’ John said.
“Melbourne’s still the main focus but the country marathons are nice with their scones and cakes and Hobart brought out the chocolates with its finish at the Cadbury factory.’’
John’s first Melbourne race was his hardest.
“I heard it advertised on 3MP and I’d done a couple of 14km fun runs, so I thought I could do it but it nearly killed me. The pain I’ll never forget,’’ he said.
His fastest time (3.02) came in 1987, and the only time he almost missed the race was in 1993 when he hobbled home in 4:22.58
“I’m a bricklayer and I did my back lifting and I could hardly bend over, but I wasn’t going to miss it,’’ he said.
As to how many more he’ll do, his recent form (last year he ran 3:54) indicates he has quite a few more Melbourne’s in him.
“Who knows? I’d hope I’ve got at least 10 more years in me,’’ John said. “People still get around pretty well until into their 70s.’’
MM PB: 2:40.36 – 1982
1978 time: 3:32.10
2013 time: 3:24.40
Some people spend their life searching for a soul mate. For Wayne Thompson it came in 1978.
“I lived in Seaford and I’d just done a marathon at Princes Park. I was listening to my local station 3MP and heard they planned to hold a race from Frankston to Melbourne. It was like a dream. The race almost ran past my door,’’ he said.
“It became my absolute passion. I’m just so grateful that they put it on. It’s been my focus. It’s like a party along the road and it’s my way of celebrating life. It’s a very profound experience and it defines my life.’’
Last year he completed the course in 3:24.40, but his best Melbourne time was 2:40, although he did run 2:36 in the 1984 Canberra Olympic Trial Marathon to finish just behind Lisa Martin.
Twice he has had to run the race in agony. In 1983 he had bad blisters from the King of the Mountain race and in 1986 he fell and badly hurt his knee.
And in 2000, when work commitments stopped him from training, he had to carefully eek out a five-hour plus effort.
“I hadn’t done any training so I ran at the back of the field with a gentlemen who looked like Danny De Vito. He was a politics lecturer so we just talked virtually the whole way,’’ Wayne said.
These days he works as manager of a Cranbourne bottle shop and every second Tuesday night he plays guitar at the Khe Sanh restaurant in Springvale.
He has no idea how many more marathons he has in him.
“I still enjoy my running. I’m so grateful for the life I’ve had, with a beautiful wife and three sons and a daughter-in-law who started bringing the grandson to the finish at the MCG when he was nine months, so in a way I couldn’t care less how many more I do,’’ he said.
But don’t be fooled by that relaxed attitude.
“A few years ago when the race nearly folded, a few of us had already decided we’d meet at the One-Mile Bridge in Frankston at 6am on the second Sunday in October and just run the course regardless. We were that committed,’’ Wayne said.
MM PB: 2:57.30 – 1989
1978 time: 4:34.47
2013 time: 3:45.15
Possibly the best-known Legend is Bruce “Digger” Hargreaves, who does a lot of work for the "100 Marathon Club", for those runners who have finished 100 marathons.
Bruce is also Australia’s ambassador for South Africa’s Comrades Marathon. But his first love is the Melbourne Marathon and despite living in Brisbane since 1983, he returns each year, often helping lead a “Pacing Bus”.
Once it was a sub-3:30 group, but lately he has been more comfortable with a slower marathon pack.
Digger was 25 when a Monash Uni workmate showed him an entry form with five weeks to go to the big day in 1978.
“I was running 5km three times a week back then, but he offered me a carton of beer if I finished. I went through halfway in 89 minutes and I finished in 4:34, so you can figure out what happened,’’ he said.
‘’While we were drinking that carton in Bourke Street, my mate declared, ‘Never again’ and he hasn’t. But I intend to keep going for as long as I’m able.’’
Formerly from Woori Yallock, Bruce’s personal best Melbourne Marathon of 2:57.30 came in the wet and windy 1989 race, just three months after he had run his PB of 2:47.02 in the 1989 Gold Coast race.
He has run more than 120 marathons and recently completed the Comrades Marathon for the sixth time.
MM PB: 3:26.51 – 2001
1978 time: 4:25.13
2013 time: 4:57.07
Manny was just 22 when he took part in the inaugural race, making him the youngest of the Legends.
“I have always been up for a challenge and the thought of running a marathon excited me, especially as my parents and lots of my family are from Greece, the home of the original marathon,’’ Manny said.
“Back in those days, there wasn’t much information on how to train and I hadn’t researched it thoroughly. The original course started off uphill in Frankston and I sprinted off keeping the leaders in my sight. I hit Seaford (about 6km) and I was gone.’’
While his best time is 3:26 in 2001, there is little sign of him slowing down and he tries to get a run in most days when his work as a company director allows.
“In the past few years I’ve completed the Kokoda Track with my son, Pana, and trekked to the base camp at Mount Everest, so I reckon I’ll keep running them while I can still stand on my own two feet,’’ Manny said.
“I would like to do the Athens Marathon one day, but it’s always the week after Melbourne and, being the youngest of the Legends, it makes it very hard because I can’t pull out.’’
The “Almost” Spartan Legends
There are six runners who have missed just one race in the first 36 years.
MM PB: 3:47.58 – 1991 aged 62
1979 time: 6:14:33
2013 time: 6:18.44
Missed first one
Antony is testament that the Spartan Legends could keep their marathon streak intact for another 15 years. The 85-year-old from Box Hill has been the oldest runner in the race since 2008, and he is still going strong.
“Some of the runners call me a freak because of my age and what I’m still able to do,’’ he said. “I still run with the Victorian Road Runners once a month and go up to Ferny Creek for long runs. People ask me my secret and all I can say is that my mother-in-law, who lived to 104, used to cook all the meals and we don’t have any fancy stuff. There’s no junk food, but I do have a sweet tooth and I do like Tim Tams.’’
After moving to Australia from Manchester in 1952, Antony began running in 1974 when he agreed to help his daughter train for the Sun SuperRun over the West Gate Bridge. He missed the 1978 race because he found out about it too late, but he completed the 1979 Melbourne Marathon at the age of 51 and has been doing it ever since.
“St Kilda Rd is where I start feeling good and you start picking off a few. As long as the body still goes, I’ll keep going. I had a back problem and I picked up a bit of flu, so I had to walk it a bit this year.’’
He walked for 2km, ran for 4km.
MM PB: 3:13.31– 1982
1979 time: 4:05.08
2013 time: 6:53.40
Missed first one
There are not too many runners who have their club named after them but Richard received that honour when his loyal Ballarat followers dubbed their training group the Tann Clan. Up to 100 members of the Tann Clan head to Melbourne each October to participate in the marathon and most go the full distance.
“Occasionally I have new runners ask if they should do the marathon or the half,’’ Richard said. “I tell them the half is like watching TV in black and white, while the marathon is like watching it in colour. It’s your choice.’’
Richard began casually jogging with a couple of mates in 1974 and became aware of the Melbourne Marathon only when a fellow runner mentioned it had been held the previous weekend.
But while the Malaysian-born engineer missed the first one, he has been a fixture since.
“When I ran my first one, I vowed, ‘Never again’ but eventually you stop saying that, but I’m afraid the years do start blurring into each other a bit,’’ he said. “In the early days when the gun went off you went out as fast as you could, but lately I take it easier.
“The best thing is that it has given both myself and the group a real focus and a reason for adding variety to our training. We run for an hour three mornings a week around Ballarat and up to 36km on Saturdays in the country.’’
While Richard admits achilles tendinitis has slowed him a little, he has no plans for retirement.
“I don’t know how many more I will do. The best answer I can give is that I will keep running it for as long as I can do it,’’ he said.
MM PB: 2:58.01 – 1987
1979 time: 5:26.01
2013 time: 5:04.53
Missed first one
Chas worked for the Reserve Bank and took up running in 1978 when a couple of work colleagues formed a lunchtime running group known as the Midday Milers Club.
Unfortunately the group started towards the end of 1978 and the Melbourne Marathon was not on the agenda that first year.
“We’d only just starting the running club and I don’t think we even knew about it (the Big M),’’ Chas said. “At that stage a few of us could only run a lap of Fitzroy Gardens and then we were buggered, so we would have struggled to finish anyway.’’
By 1979 Chas and several workmates were eager to run the marathon, only they chose one of the hottest October days on record.
“I reckon it was 35 degrees,’’ he said. “We went straight up the Nepean Highway that year and people were out there with their garden hoses spraying the runners. It was that hot.’’
Chas finished in 5:26 and said, ‘Never again’ but was back better prepared the next year and improved to 3:06. In 1987, at the age of 47, he achieved his aim of a sub three-hour marathon.
He probably would have broken three hours in the tailwind year of 1982, but for a virus. “I was really crook that year and I made a pit-stop at a private residence in Brighton. I remember going back the next day and giving the lady a box of chocolates or flowers,’’ he said.
Despite having a couple of stents put in a few years ago, Chas has kept fronting up and plans to keep going for several more years, even though Legend membership will always evade him.
“There’s a few of us that are the bridesmaids,’’ he said. ‘’We are never in the publicity even though we’ve done all but one. Marathons are a great way to keep fit. I want to stay healthy and live as long as I can and see my grandkids grow up, so I will probably keep doing them until I can’t break six hours.’’
MM PB: 2:54.29 – 1987
1979 time: 4:25.13.
2013 time: 4:12.13
Missed first one
Ian had just run his first fun run, the Sun Superun, at the age of 33, when the Big M came on the scene.
“I worked as an engineer at the SEC in William St and a few of us had only just started running at lunchtime so it wasn’t on our radar,’’ he said.
But Ian made it to the start line the following year and has been back ever since, making him a member of what he calls the “minus-one” club.
“My first one was the hardest,’’ he said. “It went all the way along Nepean Highway and there was no protection and virtually no water. I started with three other guys from work and none of them made it to the finish line. They were still building the Arts Centre at the time and you had to step up on to the footpath to avoid an area they were working on and I cramped up in both calf muscles. The following year we did a lot more training.”
The SEC running group quickly expanded and at one stage up to 30 runners would head off at lunchtime. Peter Shone was the best-known member, regularly finishing top 50, with a best of 2:35.12 in 1986.
Ian built up strength by running home to Eltham (around 25km) twice a week and got down to 2:54 in 1987.
“I passed Johnny Famechon just before the finish line that year,’’ he said.
Ian who now works as a project engineer for Amcor, does enough running to usually finish in about four hours and plans to keep going until he’s 80.
“I’ll keep doing it until my hip joints give in. It’s great for keeping fit. I’ll be 80 when I do my 50th. So that’s my goal,’’ he said.
MM PB: 2:52.27 – 1982
1978 time: 4:09.01
2013 time: 5:31.42
Missed 1979 race
Dennis has worked as an accountant for the best part of 36 years and he reckons the Melbourne Marathon has saved him from a sedentary lifestyle.
“When I first started work it was difficult to participate in organised team sports because some weeks you had work or study commitments and would let the team down,’’ he said.
“Running filled the gaps and the marathon gave me a focal point. It makes sure that I’m fairly active throughout the year because you can’t go into one without having done a fair amount of running.’
Dennis missed the 1979 race because he was working overseas in Atlanta.
“In the early years it was the allure of getting a medal from the Big M girls rather than trying to run them all that kept me coming back,’’ he said. “I don’t believe anyone back then thought they would still be at it 30-odd years later. One has to admire the Legends who have done them all.”
While he was never part of a running club, Dennis was quite a handy runner with his race PB coming in 1982.
“I think they say it was a tailwind that year but I don’t believe it. There was always a crosswind or headwind on that course from Frankston,’’ he said.
Dennis improved further to 2:47.52 in the 1983 Australian Marathon in Sydney.
‘’It’s been downhill since then,’’ he said.
MM PB: 3:22.54 – 1982
1979 time: 4:35.56
2013 time: 4:39.24
Missed first one
If there’s one regret in Bryan’s life, it’s missing the first Melbourne Marathon.
He was overseas working that day but has been a permanent fixture at the start line since. In fact the Melbourne race has been the only marathon he has run, albeit 35 times.
“I worked for Monsanto Chemicals back then and I was being trained up on some new technology at Springfield, Massachusetts, in the US,’’ Bryan said.
“I do look back on it quite a bit and wish I’d been in Melbourne. A couple of times I’ve suggested that they should have an Almost Spartan Legends club.’’
Bryan has always enjoyed running and, after struggling in the heat in 1979 improved his best time to 3:22.54 in 1982. His son Ashley has joined him twice so far, while his twin sisters Susan and Sandra have also run.
“In 1998, a few weeks after the run, a strange parcel was delivered to my home. When I opened it up there were the winners trophies for the brother-sister team category. I couldn’t believe it,’’ he said.
“We won again in 1999 and 2000. I thought at the time that we must have been the only Brother/Sister team,’’ Bryan said.
“The marathon is sort of addictive in a way. You plan your whole life around that second weekend in October. Nowadays it’s all about just finishing.’’
He hobbled home in 1994 after badly corking his thigh at work and had to do the same in the 2012 race because of a problem in his left knee.
“My job these days is producing the pain relief drug called Green Whistle. I almost needed it on race day, but my pit crew were there to keep me going,’’ he said.
* Biographies have been reproduced from The Wall: History of the Melbourne Marathon 1978-2012.